Friday, January 12, 2018
X-amining Excalibur #71
In a Nutshell
"Fatal Attractions" conclude as Excalibur helps heal Colossus' head injury.
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Pencilers: Ken Lashley, Darick Robertson & Matthew Ryan
Inkers: Cam Smith, Randy Elliot, Randy Emberlin, Mark Nelson
Letterers: Bill Oakley, Pat Brosseau, Dave Sharpe
Colors: Joe Rosas
Editor: Suzanne Gaffney
Group Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Excalibur helps round up the prisoners who escaped from Muir Island as a result of Magneto's recent EM blast. Just then, Professor X, Cyclops & Jean Grey arrive on the island, needing Shadowcat's help. Xavier believes that Colossus' may be suffering brain damage as a result of a recent injury, and wants Shadowcat to lure him to the island so they can heal the wound, in the hopes that he will then leave the Acolytes and return to the X-Men. She reluctantly agrees, and when he teleports to the island, Excalibur manages to capture him. Meanwhile, Cable arrives on the island, looking for revenge on the Acolytes, and ends up fighting with Phoenix. As the X-Men manage to heal Colossus' injury, a group of Acolytes appear, looking for Colossus. A fight breaks out, but it ends once Colossus calls it off. Fully healed, he nonetheless decides to return to Avalon with the Acolytes, and bids a sad farewell to Kitty before teleporting away. In the wake of his departure, Nightcrawler announces that Excalibur is going to stay on Muir Island, helping Moira with her work while trying to stop problems before they become disasters.
Firsts and Other Notables
The final chapter of "Fatal Attractions", the premise of this issue is that the head injury Colossus' suffered during his fight with the X-Cutioner in Uncanny X-Men Annual #17, which prevented him from transforming back to flesh, is essentially causing him brain damage, which Xavier believes may be the reason he quit the X-Men to join the Acolytes. The combined efforts of Excalibur, Xavier and Cyclops manage to heal the wound, allowing Colossus to return to his human form, but he insists he's not suffering from brain damage, and ultimately decides to stay with the Acolytes.
As such, we see him wearing one of the Acolyte uniforms for the first time in this issue (even though he appears in his old X-Men costume in X-Men #26, which takes place after this issue).
This issue also marks a new direction for the series; with the book officially moved under the editorial auspices of the larger X-office with issue #68, here, the core "previously, on X-Men" characters left standing (Nightcrawler, Shadowcat and Phoenix) decide to move the team to Muir Island and work directly with Moira MacTaggert, inspired by their work healing Colossus (which, it's worth noting, Nightcrawler & Phoenix had little to do with, and which ultimately failed, because he stayed with the Acolytes). Phoenix also talks about trying to solve problems before they become disasters, which sounds a little like X-Force's initial "hit them before they hit us" theoretical proactivism, but that's not really how this will play out here.
Nigthtcrawler presents a tortured metaphor attempting to link the sword Excalibur (which the team took as inspiration when they formed) to a medical scalpel, but it's really just a hamfisted way to give some thematic and in-universe resonance to what is, ultimately, a business decision: the book is, editorially, part of the X-franchise now, and its days of existing off on its own are over; from now on, the series will be more tightly connected to the rest of the X-books, participating in their crossovers, featuring guest stars, plot lines and villains culled more directly from the X-universe, etc.
To that end, this issue also finishes the job of excising all the non-X-Men characters from the series, most of which were introduced by Alan Davis during his solo run. Captain Britain was already lost, and the previous story wrote out Cerise (and to a lesser extent, Meggan & Feron). Here, Nightcrawler reveals that Kylun has left to continue his search for his parents, while Micromax has gone to America to take a job as the head of security for the Brand Corporation (the company for which Beast worked when he first turned blue-and-hairy). Both Meggan and Captain Britain will return to the series in a few issues (while Phoenix will be written out), returning at least 4/5th of the book's original cast to its pages, but (a few random appearances, mostly the series' final issue, aside) this pretty much marks the end of relevance for the "secondary" members of the team.
As Nightcrawler makes his big declaration about the change of the team's focus, we get a splash page showing the remaining members in new costumes, with Nightcrawler (mostly) back in his classic look (with the red V), Phoenix trading the red-and-gold Phoenix costume for the blue-and-gold X-Men colors, and Shadowcat trading her longtime blue puffy sleeve costume for a variation on the blue-and-gold training uniform that will be her default look for the rest of the series (and carry over when she eventually returns to the X-Men).
Rachel and Jean Grey, who have met before but have always had something of a rocky relationship (with Jean more or less freaked out by having returned from the dead to discover she had a teenaged daughter from an alternate timeline hanging around) reconcile this issue, with Jean apologizing to Rachel and more or less embracing her. Though Rachel will soon be written out of the series (and the X-books) for a good long chunk of time, this reconciliation will stick, with Rachel eventually adopting the "Marvel Girl" codename in honor of her "mother".
Their reconciliation gives Jean an opportunity to tease her upcoming proposal to Cyclops, making this the first direct hint of their wedding, which will occur in a few months' time (in X-Men #30, with the proposal happening in Uncanny X-Men #308).
There's a weird moment in that scene, with Jean telling Rachel if things go as planned, there's a good chance Rachel could soon be conceived in this timeline/reality, which is what prompts Rachel to realize Jean is going to propose. My initial reading of the scene made it seem like Rachel was saying Jean would only have a kid if she was married, which seems like both something Rachel wouldn't know, if Jean believed that, and also something never before established about Jean. But thinking about it, I think it's supposed to mean that since Scott & Jean were married when Rachel was conceived born, in her timeline, they'd have to be married for her to be conceived in this one (all of which, of course, is pointless, because time travel in the Marvel Universe creates alternate realities and Rachel knows this, so even if Scott & Jean got married and had a daughter and named her Rachel, she still wouldn't be *this* Rachel Summers).
In something of a random subplot, Cable guest stars in this issue, ostensibly coming to Muir Island because he tracked the Acolytes' teleportation signature and is looking for revenge after the injuries Magneto inflicted on him in X-Force #25. Aside from also calling back a previous plot point of the crossover, this is really just an excuse to get genetic siblings Cable & Phoenix to interact with each other directly for the first time since readers learned they are related.
During their fight, Rachel briefly manifests the costume and body of Captain Britain; this is setting up the events of issue #75, in which the two will trade places in the timestream and Captain Britain becomes Brittanic.
Kitty refers to previous interactions with Xavier as having occurred when she was a minor, suggesting she is at least 18 at this point in time. This will become important in regards to a future storyline in this series, even if its ultimately shown to be incorrect (comic book ages are always difficult to pin down, especially when it comes to Kitty, but she is most likely still under 18 at this point; she celebrated only her 15th birthday on-panel in issue #24).
Shadowcat, phasing through Muir Island's various levels, stumbles across a bunch of "alien stuff" she doesn't recognize, but moves past it, saying its a mystery for another time. This sure seems like a setup for a future story, but as far as I can recall, "weird alien stuff in the Muir Island basement" never gets mentioned again.
Acolyte Amelia Voight refers to herself as an "ancestor of sorts" to the X-Men; this is a reference to the backstory that will be established in Uncanny X-Men #309, when her history with Xavier is explored and its revealed that she was living with him when he decided to form the X-Men (and that his decision to do so is what drove them apart).
The issue closes with a "family photo" pinup by Darick Robertson, in which Lockheed is incorrectly colored green.
Nightcrawler is featured on this issue's hologram.
This is the first issue of Excalibur I bought off the stands back in the day (and the first issue of this series, aside from the introductory special edition, that I'd read prior to reading it for my X-aminations review), and it became part of my standard monthly buy after this, making this the point at which I was buying all the X-books in real time. I picked it up because of the crossover, and stuck with it because the new direction made it clear this was officially one of the X-books now, and, as a fan of the X-Men, I couldn't not be buying all their books, right?
I remember buying it at the Mall of America, back when it had not one, not two, but three separate stores that sold comic books (that's a "Grim 'n' Gritty 90s" reference right there...) while hanging out with some friends, specifically the wall-mounted kiosk on the third floor (across from where the Jimmy Buffet restaurant is now) which functioned kind of like an old city street newsstand (it was owned and operated by the nearby Comic Book College comic book shop). After the comic book market crashed and all the comic book-selling stores left the mall, a number of different shops went through the space where the Comic Book College satellite store had been, including a golf shop I worked at for two summers in high school, where I spent most of my days standing behind the register, reading comics.
Being a cash-strapped pre-teen, I only had enough money with me to buy this issue or Gambit #1, which were the two new issues the stand had that I hadn't already bought at one of my more regular shops. I remember agonizing over the decision (because I had never bought Excalibur before, whereas I was twelve and reading X-Men so Gambit was the coolest thing walking), but ultimately came away happy with my decision (especially once I finally did buy and read the first issue of that Gambit limited series...).
Joe Madureira draws the cover to this issue, while the interior art is kind of a mess, featuring three pencilers and four inkers, with artists handling pages almost at random (like many issues around this time, this was terribly late).
The credits for this issue are listed in that weird "negative print" style that Marvel apparently thought was super cool around this time, making them nigh-unreadable.
The Chronology Corner
Cable appear here after X-Force Annual #2, before X-Force #27. Xavier, Cyclops & Jean Grey appear between X-Men Annual #2 and Avengers #368 (setting this story before "Bloodties").
A Work in Progress
Spoor, captured by X-Factor in the first chapter of "Fatal Attractions", has been transferred between issues to Muir Island for treatment (he apparently has a psychologicial death wish, which leads him to use his pheremone powers to try to get people to kill him).
He is one of several prisoners said to have escaped from the island's holding facilities as a result of Magneto's EM pulse, though he's the only one we see.
The fact that Professor X couldn't be bothered to pop over and say hi to his three former students in Excalibur after returning from space is referenced.
Colossus seems to be reconciling his continued involvement with the Acolytes despite their past crimes by saying those atrocities were committed under Cortez' leadership. While he's not wrong, it still doesn't change the fact that he's willingly hanging out with people who were willing to commit the atrocious acts Cortez asked them too (also, his assertion that Exodus is a better leader will prove laughable given how Exodus is presented in "Bloodties").
When Nightcrawler complains to Cyclops about his team falling apart from underneath him, Cyclops mentions the time the X-Men split up and went their separate ways (following the Silver Age death of Xavier, before the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams run), a rare callback to that brief and mostly unmemorable era of the team's history.
Rachel uses her little-used temporal powers to shift herself a few seconds ahead in time, something which Cable & Professor apparently know as a "Time Tripper" ability.
Rachel is able to telepathically "hear" Professor talking to Cable.
It's established here that Katu (introduced originally as part of Cortez's royal guard, but here working just as a regular Acolyte) has the power to be a "conduit for inter-atmospheric anomalies", whatever the hell that means, which is a pretty good representation of the kind of pseudo-science claptrap that passed for powers in the 90s (ie nobody just "controls fire" or "shoots lasers" or "is superhumanly fat" anymore). Nightcrawler also makes a joke about generic some of the Acolytes are.
Lobdell further hangs a lampshade on the general vagueness/ubiquity of a lot of the Acolytes by having Cyclops make a joke about how he's never seen Katu actually use his power.
In one of the more effective scenes of the issue, after his wound his healed and he reverts to human form, Colossus breaks down and exposes what's really been eating at him: the feeling that he failed his sister, that he should have been there for her, both in a general "make her better" sense and more literally, at the moment of her death. Given that he wasn't with her when she died because he was fighting Fitzroy in Dallas, it's easy to see how he drew a line from that to "walk away from the X-Men".
Ultimately, Colossus decides to stay with the Acolytes in order to highlight the depths of Magneto's teachings (ie that he wasn't just all about the wanton slaughter humans), which is all well and good (and it's worth noting that Colossus is one of the handful of X-Men who actually fought by Magneto's side for a time when he was headmaster of the school in Xavier's absence), but it doesn't change the fact that the vast of majority of the Acolytes are themselves genocidal killers, who, whether on Cortez's orders or not, have murdered people, and not only is Colossus standing by them, Excalibur and the X-Men present are letting the Acolytes peacefully teleport away.
"Fatal Attractions" comes to a close with something of a whimper, as, in terms of narrative incident, this is the quietest issue of the crossover since the first, focused on one specific plot point from the story (Colossus' defection) and little else (it's also something of a mess, artistically: Uncanny #304 could sell its multiple artists as an anniversary jam kind of thing; here, with artists coming in and out of pages seemingly at random, it's harder to argue anything other than deadline issues are at work. Meanwhile, Cable more or less disappears halfway through the issue, is utterly superfluous to the story). Giving Colossus' decision to join the Acolytes some room to explore makes sense, and while it's still ultimately a questionable decision (walking away from Xavier's makes sense given the circumstances; throwing in with the genocidal Acolytes instead, less so) that could have easily been waved away with "brain damage" caused by his injury from the X-Cutioner, it ultimately serves the story better for that to a narrative feint/wishful thinking on the part of the X-Men. If Colossus is going to leave the X-Men for Magneto, then it needs to be a decision he makes with a clear mind, and not as the result of a brain injury, mind control, etc.
But while work to lure Colossus to Muir Island and "cure" him represents this issue's contributions to "Fatal Attractions", it is ultimately more about setting up the new status quo for the series, one which reflects the book's new place within the larger X-office, and it is packed with incidents that matter specifically to this series: Rachel & Jean reconciling, Rachel & Cable interacting, Kitty calling out Xavier's behavior, the last non-X-Men team members getting written out, new costumes, and a new direction. This in and of itself isn't a bad idea - once the X-Men dropped the whole "fake death" ruse, it made little sense for this series to remain as removed from the rest of the X-books as it was, and the premise here, of Excalibur serving, essentially, as Moira MacTaggert's X-Men, makes as much sense and has as much potential to generate stories as the previous one in which the team was supposed to be a kind of European Avengers (though they rarely were, because the creators instead kept dropping them into drawn-out whacky adventures that worked on the strengths of the creators involved).
However, it's unclear exactly why that also requires the complete departure from the book of everyone who wasn't previously a member of the X-Men. While the cast could probably have used some trimming, almost all of the characters written out over the last four issues have ways in which they could work in the new status quo: Kylun & Micromax are mutants, Cerise is Shi'ar, while Captain Britian & Meggan are founding members of the team (and, granted, both will be brought back into the fold soon). Really, only Feron is extraneous. While the desire to integrate this series more firmly into the X-universe is appreciated, then and now, the decision to do so by jettisoning so much of the book's previous history is also unfortunate.
Next week: Sabretooth gets a new status quo in X-Men Unlimited #3, "Bloodties" continues in Avengers West Coast #101, and the world is in danger in Wolverine: Global Jeopardy.